On a surface level it's easy to look at BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle and dub it Arc System Works Asset Reuse: The Game. In some ways that snarky title is disappointingly accurate, but it ignores the effort that's gone into making this stylish 2D fighter a lot of fun to play.
Tag Battle features characters from four different franchises. Most of the roster is made up of BlazBlue characters, as you'd expect based on the name, and they're joined by four Persona Arena characters, four Under Night In-Birth characters, and two characters from the animated series RWBY.
Naturally, this colourful cast is brought together by a mysterious force in the game's story mode, which is fully voiced, both in English and in Japanese. The plot itself is mostly just an excuse to have all of these personalities kick each other to bits, but there are some enjoyable character moments scattered throughout -- especially if you're familiar with the combatants. It's also quite lengthy, offering up different scenarios based on each property.
However, the story mode's really the only offline option with any meat to it. There's no standard arcade mode to run through, and the included survival mode is only going to entertain those who love chasing high scores. It's unfortunately slim pickings unless you're happy to batter the computer in versus mode over and over again.
Of course, it's all about the online modes once you're confident enough in your abilities. As we've come to expect of Arc System Works, everything appears to run smoothly, and you've got your standard suite of matches to choose from, including ranked, casual, and fully customisable lobbies. Again, standard stuff, but it's all slick and straight to the point.
So what about the actual gameplay? Well, Tag Battle unsurprisingly has you play as a team comprising of two characters, and its tag mechanics are reasonably easy to wrap your head around. You can swap between your duo with a simple tap of X, and your ally can be called in for special attacks with R1. On top of that, you can switch quickly with your buddy while they're on the offensive, leading to potential combos and pressure. The basics are easy to master, and building on them is a rewarding process -- and there's a lot of building to be done if you want a firm grasp on everything that Tag Battle has to offer.
Much like the brilliant Dragon Ball FighterZ, Tag Battle is a very welcoming fighting game. Indeed, one of its biggest strengths is how accessible it is. New players can get to grips with the title through 'smart' combos, which only require multiple presses of the same face button. What's more, move lists have been consolidated across the board, with the simplest directional motions and one or two buttons unleashing super attacks. It's probably the lowest bar for entry that BlazBlue has ever had, even when taking the aforementioned tag mechanics into account. It also helps that there are tutorials for basically everything a newcomer would want to know.
Perhaps the best thing about Tag Battle's combat system, though, is how it presents a real sense of teamwork. In some similar games where you control more than one combatant, it can seem like swapping between characters is little more than a gimmick. Here, there's a tangible back-and-forth between your two chosen fighters -- it actually feels like they're helping each other out. And because of how quickly your special meters can fill, chopping and changing characters feels fast, fluid, and dynamic.
What we have, then, is an easy-to-learn-hard-to-master system that's open to a great amount of depth. As we wrote at the start of the review, it's just a blast to play, especially once you've familiarised yourself with the various tag combinations.
On the gameplay front Tag Battle is hard to fault, but it's difficult not to get hung up on the game's character roster. Sitting at a total of 20 characters excluding downloadable content -- paid or otherwise -- the roster gets the job done, but only just. There's a decent mix of fighting styles and you can certainly create some cool teams, but with an additional 20 characters lined up as DLC, it all seems very cynical. This becomes even more of a problem when you consider that many of the upcoming characters appear to be plucked directly from past Arc System Works titles.
At the time of writing, the likes of Hakumen (BlazBlue) and Naoto Shirogane (Persona), are confirmed as premium DLC -- both of them appearing as they did in their previous respective outings. A long stretch of post-launch additional content is fine, but Tag Battle's plans seem to revolve around feeding existing characters -- with reused sprites and animations -- into a new game. Let's just say it's a good job that the game itself is able to stand on its own merits.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is an incredibly entertaining fighter that hinges on some brilliantly crafted team mechanics, so it's a real shame that the overall product is cloaked in controversy. Accessible yet open-ended and deep, Arc System Works' latest is slick and expressive, but it's the questionable DLC practices that ultimately muddy the waters.